Mothering: Balancing kindness and goodness

Children misbehave more when their mothers are in the room.  That’s not just cynical anecdotal evidence talking; that’s science.  OK, it’s fake science.  The article I read acknowledged as much.  But the logic behind the argument made a lot more sense that most of the so-called data coming out of the think-tanks these days. 

 Jill Mills, a blogger and mother, further suggests that the phenomenon is not even really a problem — not in the big picture, anyway.  Sure, mom wants the little tornado to leave her alone when she is trying to do chores (or watch the Hallmark Channel).  She certainly wants him/her to quit touching every single item on the racks during every trip to Target.  And when she gets glowing reports from her little terror’s teachers telling her how wonderfully well behaved the child is, she wonders if her child has an identical twin — or, worse, that her mothering is somehow to blame for the child’s misbehavior.

And in a sense, it is.  She is doing her job too well.

Mothers love their children.  The children know that.  And intuitively, they know they are safe with her.  No matter how much mom may promise otherwise, the child will never be sold to gypsies or donated to the zoo.  Her love is unconditional.  Such cannot be said of mean old Mrs. Johnson, who even in the 21st Century still won’t allow chewing gum in her class, let alone dashing through the desk aisles screaming.

So mothers, when the Bible class teacher pushes back from allowing you to “help out” by staying in class with your child, realize she probably knows best.  You do the mom thing; let her do the teacher thing.  Your child will be fine.  You’ve done your job well.  Now let the teacher do hers.

All that said, we must consider the other side of the coin.  Loving a child (as defined by the child) is not always compatible with protecting and training a child.  And as any decent, intelligent and godly mother knows, lines must be drawn, rules enforced, and measures taken.  Naturally, to the child used to seeing mom as a constant source of joy and comfort, this is horrifying.  The child feels betrayed and will act accordingly.  He or she does not understand the complexity of mom’s role.  All the child knows is, the one constant in life has been upended.

But the child will recover.  More importantly, the child will learn.  Yes, mom is a source of comfort.  But mom values training even more.  She knows Proverbs 22:6 by heart — and Proverbs 22:15 as well.

The giver of comfort can also be the giver of discipline.  When mom (or sometimes dad) is considered to be a “pushover,” the child never learns the important lessons of life.  He or she is left ill prepared to deal with a world that will not be as kind as mom.  It’s the difference between kindness and goodness.  That which is “kind” is pleasant, always acceptable, easy to receive.  A kind word lifts the spirit.  It is almost impossible to receive kindness in a negative sort of way.  Goodness, on the other hand, is what is profitable — broccoli instead of macaroni and cheese.  That which is “good” may or may not be received well, depending on the way it is given and (particularly) the attitude of the one receiving it.  Medicine may not be kind, but it is good — regardless of how it tastes in the mouth of the one to whom it is given.

Imagine what the life of a Christian would be like if God offered only kindness.  Without motivation to develop our character, we would be like children for our entire lives.  We would never become productive in His service.  We would never learn to serve others.  We would never accept responsibility for the messes we make.  We would never question God’s love, true; but we would betray the purpose that brought us into God’s family in the first place.

Briefly, let’s consider a worst-case scenario.  Despite mom’s best efforts, the child refuses to submit to discipline.  Everything he or she does is an affront to the principles mom has spent years trying to instill.  The time comes when extreme measures are all that remains.  If support is used consistently to thwart mom’s higher purposes for her child (assuming he or she is old enough to know and do better), the support must be withdrawn.

Such is the case for fallen Christians also.  We can misbehave so egregiously as to sever bonds of fellowship — both with God (Galatians 5:4) and with brethren (1 Corinthians 5:13).  Some would argue this is incompatible with love.  And from the perspective of the one disciplined, surely it seems that way.  But love is not the only consideration.  God adopted us into His family so He could make us over in Jesus’ image (Romans 8:29).  The blessings He bestows can and will be withheld when He deems appropriate (Romans 9:14-15).  It is not our place to accuse our Father of injustice; it is our place to submit to His will as completely as we can so as to not incur His wrath.